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Range Brass to Finished Cartridge, Tips For The Ubiquitous .223 Cartridge, by R.W. – Part 2

Why would anyone go to the risk or bother to reload their own bullets, if all things are equal? For instance, why reload if reloading materials are just as available as finished bullets and conversely there are no shortages or sticker shock encountered in either? That’s a good question. My advice is to leave no stone unturned, dig a little deeper, and keep all of your options open. Not all bullets are created equal, of course. Even if all manufacturers made the same specifications, performance and accuracy would vary wildly, or else the science of punching holes in paper to find a optimal load would not be necessary. Furthermore, some calibers, grain weights, bullet types, and powder loads may be nearly impossible to find and purchase at the cheaper price mentioned previously. Hollow points, soft points, various grain weight, bullets, or specialty loads, such as match loads, tracers, semi-armor piercing, and the like may not come in a factory-loaded cartridge, or it may be almost impossible to afford to shoot or practice with them due to their price or lack of availability. Most of the low cost .223 ammo out there today is going to be of the ball ammo, full metal jacket, or target grade ammo with average speed and grain weights, which will have a speed around the 2800 to 3200 fps (feet per second) and average grain weight between .50 and .55 grains in a fmjbt (full metal jacket, boat tail slug). Any of the other variations of grain weight, speed, and slug configuration will generally cost you a lot more per round to shoot with some of the match grade, expansive tipped or heavier grain bullets costing over $1.00 per bullet. All things being equal, if you are just plinking and want to go to the target range to hunt and stalk a paper target [1], I recommend purchasing the practice ammo, getting the “run of the mill” target stuff, and skipping reloading at this time, until the next ammo crunch occurs; then, pull up this article, get both your credit card and calender [2] (because you’ll be waiting for items on back order), and start over at the beginning. However, if you think you might need to hunt or shoot something other than paper, you might want to look into reloading.

Let me draw you back from my rabbit trail a second and try and coach you through a few money-saving tips of the .223 reloading process. First, I have a few options, which you may want to consider, that may save you money. Keep in mind that as a hobby we do not take into consideration the time it takes to produce a cartridge at home, or the price of making your own becomes much more ambiguous if not downright problematic.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument, you decide that I might be on to something, and you have been able to practice hand loading with a friend. Since you believe you have the aptitude and fortitude to make your own rounds, you have purchased/accumulated slugs, powder, primers, and brass shell cases, watched 25 videos on reloading at various YouTube sites, and located a source(s) of reloading equipment. Before you take the final plunge of purchasing any reloading equipment, I recommend the following:

  1. First of all for the sake of ease and climbing safely on to the learning curve of reloading, I recommend a single stage press as your primary learning tool. The secret of learning any new endeavor is to survive long enough to get good at it by doing it safely and correctly. I believe is by keeping it simple that you will be keeping it safe.
  2. Next, do your homework and go online to determine fair market prices for your reloading equipment needs. Most of the primary manufacturers of reloading equipment will have a package deal that offers most everything you will need on the hardware side of reloading to get you started– press, scale, funnel, primer, powder dispenser, and other sundry tools including reloading manuals or booklets on proper load data for most of the common calibers being used today. You will typically need to purchase a set of reloading dies, but there are even kits out there that may have these included in several of the more popular caliber configurations.
  3. Once this is done, I then recommend you check prices at your local gun shops or reloading supply house. If their prices are even remotely competitive, I would give the local store the nod. You never know when you might need to get those last minute supplies for reloading, and going local will keep these shops around for just such a trip. If you cannot get close to a fair price from your local dealers, then I recommend a gun show at a larger venue if your area is fortunate enough to have them. If all else fails, go to the Internet and try your hand at eBay or Amazon. Each one of these options has their pros and cons, but I have had success with all of them, and hopefully you will also.

If you had good fortune, during the time you spent learning and practicing how to reload with a friend, you were informed of or noticed one thing almost immediately– of all of the components that it takes to make a bullet go out of the end of the barrel of your favorite shooting platform, all of the items are consumables, except for the shell case. (What did I tell you about the saving of brass and packaging?) Folks out there in reloading land understand that brass is a wonderfully ductile metal that can be worked easily with the proper tools and dies into a reusable product. (It may be noted here that there are some who cast pistol caliber slugs at home, but for the average reloader this is not an option in the making of the rifle rounds, due to the higher muzzle velocity causing the need to use a copper jacketed bullet. That’s all for another time and another article!)

HACK ALERT! One of the subcategories of the reloading hobby is coming up with cheap alternatives to acquiring new shell casings in order to make new bullets. As seen above, the brass case is the one component that is reused multiple times in the reloading process, and this gives the home reloader an edge over the manufacturer of new ammo when it comes to production costs. It should be noted here that there are at this time, several manufacturers using reconditioned brass. These include Black Hills as well as others, and they’re offering these bullets at commercial outlets. Some local “garage shops” in your area may be doing the same and offering ammo for sale at the local gun show. The reconditioned ammo (made from used brass and new components) can generally be had at a cash advantage over the brand new stuff, but once again your savings is not going to be found with the target variety ammo, rather it’s with the more exotic loadings for your cartridges.

Brass can be purchased new, of course, and even purchased used [3], but scavenging brass from one of your local public or private gun ranges can save you huge amounts of your reloading dollar. Some of these resources may not be available to you, but if you have a public range, picking up spent cartridges is a very real possibility for procuring brass. This may or may not be highly competitive where you live, but around these parts it has become very much so due in large part to a lot of retired or unemployed folks supplementing their income or their hobby of reloading, by finding, sorting, and selling or trading used brass. This brass picked up from the range will usually need to be sorted by caliber, manufacture, and condition (damaged cases are not uncommon); it must also be cleaned and then processed for home use or marketed for sale or trade. Some of the range-find brass may wind up on the market at gun shows or gun stores. Most can be had in bulk for the reasonable price of $0.05 to $0.10 per round. Often, for $10.00 you can get 100 once-fired cases at these locations. This can be a savings of 50% over the retail prices of new brass, in most cases (no pun intended).

While on the subject of purchasing new brass for reloading, it is often nice to be able to start your reloading experience or training using new brass. There are a few advantages to using new brass to make your first few batches of reloads. A few advantages are that they are:

The brass can often be found at the same locations as mentioned earlier in the article, using any one of your vendors of choice. If you purchase brass in large quantities (500-1000), you will normally save a few cents a case and often shipping, and these savings can add up. As noted earlier, there are huge savings to be had by procuring shell cases in used condition. It should be noted here that brass cases are not the only form of cases manufactured, as there are also cases made of nickel plate brass, mild steel, and aluminum with a smattering of other materials used but not normally found. In most instances, the brass and nickel-plated brass are reloadable. The problem comes in when you understand that the militaries of the world specify and/or often use Berdan primers, whereas the civilian rounds produced for the mass markets are made with a Boxer primer. The good news is that I have not encountered or heard of any cartridges being made for the .223 cailber using Berdan primers. I am not sure, but it may be because the small primers, called for in the .223, are seldom specified with Berdan primers, but in the category of good information to be aware of, put this information in your tool belt for bullets using large primers, such as the .308, 30-06 and other military calibers. More than one reloader has been surprised when trying to decap/deprime a mil spec shell case and broken the decaping pin off of the arbor of the die. [Editor’s Note: European manufactured brass is generally Berdan primed unless it was made specifically for the US domestic market. While you generally don’t have to worry about that if you are purchasing new brass, those who reload need to check carefully, because there is quite a bit of imported ammo that is Berdan primed.]

Many shell cases will be able to be reloaded after reshaping with the proper die for at least five times or more, prior to defects forming on the cases, such as the primer pocket being worn or the case neck splitting (more technical nomenclature to be sure), but if you are going to reload then you will probably have already learned the terms I just mentioned. There are ways to extend the longevity of the body of the brass, BUT ON THE PRIMER POCKET there is NOT SO MUCH.